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Book Review: The Careful Undressing of Love by Corey Ann Haydu

carefulPublisher’s description

The girls of Devonairre Street have always been told they’re cursed. Any boy they love is certain to die too soon. But this is Brooklyn in 2008, and the curse is less a terror and more a lifestyle accessory—something funky and quaint that makes the girls from the shortest street in Brooklyn special. They wear their hair long and keys around their necks. People give them a second look and whisper “Devonairre” to their friends. But it’s not real. It won’t affect their futures.

Then Jack—their Jack, the one boy everyone loved—dies suddenly and violently. And now the curse seems not only real, but like the only thing that matters. All their bright futures have suddenly gone dark.

The Careful Undressing of Love is a disturbing and sensual story of the power of youth and the boundless mysteries of love set against the backdrop of Haydu’s brilliantly reimagined New York City.

 

Amanda’s thoughts

I know better than to judge a book by its cover. But in the case of A CAREFUL UNDRESSING OF LOVE, you can look at it and make a completely accurate judgement: lovely cover, lovely book. Come for the cover, stay for the devastatingly moving story about love and loss.

 

Lorna and her four closest friends (Delilah, Charlotte, Isla, and her brother Cruz) are a package deal. The fact that they live on the same street and all have dead fathers would be enough to unite them, but it’s the traditions and beliefs of Devonairre Street that solidify them. It’s their Shared Birthday. It’s the keys around their necks. It’s the Curse: if a Devonairre Street girl falls in love with a boy, he will die. The proof is in all the widows on their street. Angelika, the 70-something head of their street, never lets the girls forget that love will only cause unspeakable pain. But Lorna and her friends aren’t entirely sure they buy into the Curse. They aren’t afraid of love—or they don’t want to be. Or maybe they don’t actually know how they feel about any of it at all. Lorna enjoys her boyfriend Owen. She likes to be around him. She likes to have sex with him. She knows she loves things about him, but that’s not the same as being in love. And she’s not sure that there’s any appeal for her in love, anyway. Look around.

 

When Delilah’s boyfriend, Jack, is struck and killed by a taxi, all of their relationships with the Curse and with being Devonairre Street girls change. For Delilah, it makes her believe. She aligns herself with Angelika and carries the guilt of having caused Jack’s death. It changes her, driving a wedge between Delilah and Lorna, who she now wants to save from love. Lorna’s mother thinks it’s time to stop going along with all of Angelika’s silly Curse nonsense. She begins to stand up to the street, breaking Angelika’s rules and giving Lorna the courage to think of the Curse and the traditions as something she can opt out of. But it’s not that easy, especially as revelations throw everything Lorna thought she understood into doubt. And untangling love from curses, grief and loss from life, proves to be more difficult than she could have imagined. It’s hard to try to move on with your life when you’re surrounded by a world  that won’t let you. How can you possibly live in a present when you are constantly reminded of your past and warned of your future?

 

Haydu has written a profound story examining grief, doubt, tradition, expectation, and identity. Haydu’s story brings up huge questions about sacrifice and protection, about truth and perception. We are asked to consider, right alongside Lorna and crew, if love if a decision. Lorna and her friends know grief and pain, but they are still young. They are still learning that loss and heartache are inherent in love. And they can’t protect themselves from that—not by chalking things up to a Curse, not by drinking certain teas, not by building cages around their hearts, not by anything. They don’t yet know that we are all Affected, that we are all Cursed. In their isolation, they don’t understand that everyone has lost loved ones, that everyone blames themselves. Thanks to the relentlessness of Angelika, the Devonairre Street girls feel like they are the only ones protecting themselves, denying themselves, and stumbling under the dizzying weight of grief and guilt. Lorna, Delilah, Charlotte, and Isla’s whole lives are filled with people making them feel Other because of this. They don’t yet understand these are the prices we pay for being alive, for being the survivors. Their search for this understanding, their stumbling for answers and finding new pain, is heartbreaking. This beautifully written story is not to be missed. A powerful and deeply profound exploration of love, tragedy, and life itself.

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9780399186738

Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group

Publication date: 01/31/2017

Book Review: History is All You Left Me by Adam Silvera

Publisher’s description

history-twoFrom the New York Times bestselling author of More Happy Than Not comes an explosive examination of grief, mental illness, and the devastating consequences of refusing to let go of the past.

When Griffin’s first love and ex-boyfriend, Theo, dies in a drowning accident, his universe implodes. Even though Theo had moved to California for college and started seeing Jackson, Griffin never doubted Theo would come back to him when the time was right. But now, the future he’s been imagining for himself has gone far off course.

To make things worse, the only person who truly understands his heartache is Jackson. But no matter how much they open up to each other, Griffin’s downward spiral continues. He’s losing himself in his obsessive compulsions and destructive choices, and the secrets he’s been keeping are tearing him apart.

If Griffin is ever to rebuild his future, he must first confront his history, every last heartbreaking piece in the puzzle of his life.

 

Amanda’s thoughts

There are not enough positive words in the universe (this one or alternate ones) to convey how I feel about this book. I was torn between burning through it, so I could see what happens, and forcing myself to slow down, so I could be sure to read every single beautiful word. I absolutely loved More Happy Than Not, but I think it’s possible that I love this book more.

 

The novel begins with Griffin gearing up to go to Theo’s funeral. Theo is his ex-boyfriend, one of his best friends, and his first love. In an act of self-sabotage (or self-preservation), Griffin broke up with Theo when he moved to California over a year ago for college, but they’ve remained in each other’s lives. Griffin thinks of Theo as his once and future love. He figures Theo will find his way back to him at some point. That theory is obliterated when Theo drowns. Griffin unravels. Toggling between their history and the present (where Griffin is directly addressing Theo, who he believes is with him even in death and observing him), Griffin fills in every detail of their relationship and everything that happened after they broke up (though it’s a slow reveal).

 

As I read, I kept thinking of that Stevie Smith poem, “Not Waving but Drowning,” specifically the lines “I was much further out than you thought/And not waving but drowning.” I was thinking of it not in the context of what happened to Theo, but what’s happening with Griffin. As we get to learn more of Griffin’s story, both the history and what he’s currently experiencing, we learn that he’s a real mess. He’s keeping a lot back from everyone (including the reader). He’s doing worse than anyone realizes, for so many reasons. Even when it seems like he’s letting people in, coping a little, trying to process and heal, he’s not. And who can blame him?

 

Both the history and the present are riveting, unexpected storylines. Griffin and Theo’s relationship is powerful and complicated, especially once they break up. I loved seeing them get together and watching their close friendship morph into intense first love. They have loving, supportive families. The third member of their squad, Wade, barely blinks when the two start dating—he just doesn’t want to feel like a third wheel with his longtime best friends. When Theo begins to date Jackson while in California, Griffin tries to keep his cool, jealous, but figuring the relationship won’t last. After Theo dies, Griffin has the love and support of his family, Theo’s, and Wade, but it’s through Jackson that Griffin tries to seek solace. Though at first not really excited to get to know Jackson at all, Griffin realizes that he’s really the only person who can understand exactly how he feels. Plus, he believes Theo is watching him, and he thinks Theo would like to see him working so hard to get along with Jackson and to understand what they had.

 

Predictably, growing closer to Jackson and learning more about his time with Theo is agonizing for Griffin. It’s all hard to hear and pretty heartbreaking. Through this entire grieving process, Griffin is growing more and more heartbroken, learning things about Theo that hurt him and avoiding pretty enormous things that need to be dealt with. One of those things is Griffin’s “quirks,” as he thinks of them—really OCD and depression and the whole thinking Theo is currently with him somehow thing. Though surrounded by love and support, Griffin is hellbent on forging his own way through the quagmire of grief.

 

This profoundly devastating, heartbreaking, and brilliantly rendered look at love and grief will captivate readers. An absolute must-read. Bump this to the top of your TBR lists and be ready to not move until you finish it.

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher and Edelweiss

ISBN-13: 9781616956929

Publisher: Soho Press, Incorporated

Publication date: 01/17/2017

Book Review: Things We Know by Heart by Jessi Kirby

When we meet Quinn, in Jessi Kirby’s Things We Know by Heart,  it has been 400 days since her boyfriend Trent was killed in an accident. In those 400 days, Quinn has been wallowing in her grief and wallowing HARD (and who can blame her?). She’s basically stopped doing everything she once enjoyed and doesn’t interact with anyone beyond her family. She keeps track of each day since Trent was killed as some kind of vigil, a testament to their love and to his memory. As she says at one point, she’s essentially an 18-year-old widow.

 

The only good thing to come out of Trent’s death was the fact that five people became recipients of his organs. Working through the right avenues, Trent’s family (including Quinn) can reach out to the recipients and vice versa. Quinn has heard back from and met four of the people, but the fifth one, the one who received his heart, is elusive. But it’s 2015 and no one can remain elusive long thanks to the internet. Quinn does some savvy researching and discovers that recipient #5 is a boy named Colton. Though she knows she shouldn’t, she goes off in search of him, not sure what she’ll do if she finds him. She meets him in a convoluted way—they are in the same coffee shop and Quinn panics and flees, leaving her purse behind, which he returns, and then gets into a minor car accident that he witnesses. Instead of revealing who she is and what she’s doing looking for him, she just gets to know him while keeping everything a secret—a plan that is sure to cause some waves.

 

It is, of course, predictable that Quinn and Colton will fall for each other. You can also guess that this is confusing for Quinn—is it because Colton has Trent’s heart? Does this somehow affect how Colton feels toward her? You can also guess that when the truth of their connection is finally revealed to Colton, he doesn’t love that she has been keeping all of this from him. BUT what moves this beyond simply being a predictable story about love, loss, and lies are the very real feelings Quinn goes through as she processes everything from the past 400 days and everything that is happening to her now. She is happy with Colton. He’s good for her, and she’s good for him. They really just kind of do the same things over and over and that’s all it takes for them to feel content and enjoy each other. They don’t have a particularly deep connection, mainly because of the amount of things both parties are holding back, but their attachment to each other grows in a realistic way, especially once the truth comes out.

 

Each chapter starts with a quote about hearts or transplants—some scientific, some poetic. The scientific ones help inform the readers about organ donation and how hearts function in the body. Readers might be tempted to skip over these precursors to the chapter but would be remiss in doing so. Though the story follows a completely predictable trajectory, the tension that comes from Quinn having this big secret is really what carries the story. This will be an easy one to move off the shelves–a romance that is as much about loss as it is about love. A moving look at how our lives go on even in the face of almost unthinkable tragedies and obstacles. 

 

REVIEW COPY COURTESY OF EDELWEISS
ISBN-13: 9780062299437
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 4/21/2015